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NSW: Holidays, visitors on the road map, but future restrictions not ruled out

Sydneysiders can holiday in regional NSW and welcome up to five vaccinated adults into their homes once 70 per cent of the state is fully vaccinated, but the government is prepared to restrict movement for months to come if localised outbreaks emerge.

Racecourses, cinemas and live sporting events will return with capacity limits, while weddings and funerals will resume for up to 50 guests under the Berejiklian government’s “road map to freedom”.

Parts of the Mid North Coast, North Coast, north-west, Albury, Riverina and Murrumbidgee will be the first areas to test the plan when they emerge from lockdown this Saturday.

The reopening plan for fully vaccinated people will be triggered the Monday after NSW passes the double dose target of 70 per cent. The state is now at more than 42 per cent.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday revealed the long-promised plan, but cautioned that the freedoms could be swiftly removed in localised areas if there was an outbreak or unexpected surge in case numbers.

“This road map is conditional,” she said. “If there are high rates of disease in a particular locality or a sudden surge … your mobility will be restricted within a particular distance, and that could happen at any stage.”

Ms Berejiklian said there were no plans to remove curfews in south-west and western Sydney hotspots for at least the next week, when NSW is expected to experience a peak in case numbers.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who led the design of the recovery road map, warned that regional areas coming out of lockdown this weekend would also lose their freedoms if a single local case of COVID-19 emerges.

“If there is an active case in your community, you will go back into lockdown for a minimum of 14 days, that is the commitment that we’ve made to health [authorities].”

Under the road map, which is likely to come into effect in late-October, up to 20 people can gather in outdoor settings, car-pooling will be permitted and camping grounds will reopen.

Pubs will be restricted to one patron per four square metres inside and one per two square metres outdoors, where drinking while standing will be permitted.

Retail stores, gyms, hairdressers and nail salons will all reopen, subject to the one person per four square metres cap, major outdoor venues like stadiums and zoos can reopen with up to 5000 people and seated ticketed outdoor events can resume for up to 500 people.

Ms Berejiklian said the state was “definitely not out of the woods,” with case numbers likely to peak in the next week and the hospital system to come under the greatest strain in October.

NSW reported 1405 new local coronavirus cases and five deaths on Thursday. There are 1175 coronavirus patients in hospital, of which 202 people are in intensive care. Eighty require ventilation.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said there were “glimmers of flattening” in Sydney hotspots, despite more than 1000 cases being recorded in the Canterbury-Bankstown and Cumberland areas in the past week.

“I do not want to call it too early. But I just want to give some hope that if you continue to stick the course, we may well see declining case numbers in some of those areas, as we see vaccination rates climb,” she said.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said, after a difficult winter, NSW could expect “an incredibly bright summer”.

Mr Perrottet said the government was working on an economic recovery plan to be announced in early October, prior to the launch of the road map.

“I know it can be difficult when we look overseas and see the activity and the fact that there are greater freedoms in certain countries around the world, but it should also fill us with hope that this is the pathway NSW is on.”

Central to the reopening plan will be vaccination certificates displayed through an updated feature in the Service NSW app. The app will also be updated later this month with an alert function for COVID exposure sites.

Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello is in talks with his Victorian counterpart to enable mutual recognition between the state’s respective apps, which are both used for check-ins and vaccination certificates.

Mr Dominello said streamlining the apps would enable a NSW citizen to use the Service NSW app to show their vaccination status in Victoria, and vice versa, while easing data transfer between the states’ health authorities.

“Our technical teams need to get together, but this is what we need to work towards. We need to put people first, not borders,” he said.

The road map follows the release this week of modelling that predicted up to 2000 cases a day in Sydney’s hotspots by next week and an overwhelming strain on the hospital system by November under the current settings.

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said the road map disregarded warnings that easing restrictions when contact tracing systems were already overwhelmed would lead to higher case numbers and a greater burden on the health system.

“The Burnet modelling released by NSW recently was predicated on current restrictions remaining in place and did not include an assessment of what the changes announced today would mean for the health system,” he said.

“Unfortunately, today’s plan appears to leave NSW at considerable risk of having to return to lockdowns.”

As the government laid out the framework for a return from lockdown predicated on vaccine uptake, NSW Council of Social Services chief executive Joanna Quilty called on the state to mandate the jab for all social service employees.

In a letter to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard sent earlier this week, seen by the Herald, Ms Quilty said the state should make vaccines mandatory for those providing care to some of the state’s most vulnerable.

“The sector’s workforce is at the frontline and engaged in face-to-face contact. It is also casualised and low paid, making it highly mobile with staff often working across multiple locations,” she said.

Meanwhile, the CFMEU NSW called for all workers to be automatically eligible for compensation if they suffer an adverse reaction to a vaccine under state law.

The NSW Greens are planning to introduce a bill when state parliament returns to protect all workers required to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of their employment.

“Frontline workers need to know upfront that if they are required to be vaccinated and then have any significant adverse reaction, that they will be protected,” Greens MP David Shoebridge said.